Change or continuity? Forum speaker says election 2012 boils down to that

By Alexa Epitropoulos |

Ken Walsh, the chief White House Correspondent for the U.S. News and World Report, said the 2012 election will come down to one major decision: change or continuity.

While President Obama was able to excite voters with the promise of “change” in 2008, Walsh said Obama faces a challenge in the face of slow economic recovery.

“In 2012, people seem much more cynical, and I believe the turnout will be much less than it was in 2008,” Walsh said. “It will be interesting to see what happens.”

The push and pull between change and continuity is key in American politics, according to Walsh, who has been a Washington correspondent since the administration of Ronald Reagan. The 2008 and 2010 elections illustrated this point.

While both represented “change,” the elections meant different things to each party. While 2008 saw the entrance of President Obama and the Democratic control of the Senate and House of Representatives, 2010 saw the Republicans regaining a majority in the House and picking up seats in the Senate.

Why the sudden reversal? According to Walsh, the economy and unemployment were the largest contributing factors.

In 2009, during President Obama’s first year in office, unemployment ranged from 9 to 10 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As the rate of unemployment increased, President Obama’s job approval rating plummeted from 64 percent in February 2009 to 45 percent in October 2010, according to Gallup.

Even though President Obama, as a presidential candidate, had been able to use the economic crisis as a case for change, the continued effects had an impact on the Democratic Party’s case for continuity in 2010. Walsh said that the economy will remain the largest factor in President Obama’s reelection campaign.

It is unemployment, however, that Walsh categorizes as the “single most important issue in the election.” The September jobs report, which places unemployment at 7.8 percent, the lowest unemployment rate in four years, boded well for the Obama campaign.

What the number does not take into account, however, are those who are underemployed or have stopped looking for work. The 7.8 percent rate does not apply to all communities, including the counties with “near-depression” levels, Walsh said.

Although Walsh said that Obama is the favorite, he acknowledged that the result will heavily depend on the state of the economy at the time of the election, as well as the presidential debates.

It is the economy and the relatively slow recovery from the 2008 Economic Crisis that has made room for President Obama’s challenger, Gov. Mitt Romney, run on the platform that “he can do better” if elected.

Walsh says that while Romney is a “fabulous businessman,” he is not without his problems. Romney has faced criticism from individuals within his own party for not being conservative enough, along with a steady flow of criticism for his gaffes.

Romney has, however, benefited in polls due to his performance in the First Presidential Debate. Walsh said most of this had to do with Romney trying to relate to people on a personal level.

“For whatever reason, Romney decided to become more compassionate,” Walsh said.

The enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans may represent another advantage for Romney. According to Gallup, about 49 percent of Republicans say they are more enthusiastic about voting in 2012, while only 45 percent of Democrats say the same. If the enthusiasm gap is wide enough in swing states such as Florida, the edge would benefit Mitt Romney.

Walsh’s speech was part of a lecture series on Government and Public Policy. It marks his second visit as speaker at the Flagler Forum.

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